Quality infrastructure helps to meet the Sustainable Development Goals

In a previous blog post, we asked whether a new definition of quality is needed. Our answer was affirmative, emphasizing that nowadays quality must always be measured by how it relates to environmental, social and economic sustainability.

In this post, we follow this logic to examine the relationship between Quality Infrastructure (QI) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in more detail. In 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides a framework for peace and prosperity for the planet and its people. 17 SDGs form the core of the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs demand concerted action in a global partnership to end poverty and other sufferings, improve human health and education, reduce inequality, foster economic growth, combat climate change and preserve oceans and forests.

Quality Infrastructure can best position economies to attain the SDGs. QI contributes mainly towards improving three dimensions addressed by the SDGs: People, Planet and Prosperity (beside the additional two, namely Peace and Partnerships). These five Psemphasise how the SDGs shape an interconnected framework instead of just being a group of isolated goals.

International trade is considered an engine for prosperity and poverty reduction. QI makes domestic markets more effective and facilitates their access to foreign markets. This is achieved through quality assurance, compliance with standards and meeting consumer requirements at home and abroad. QI helps to meet market requirements and can address social and environmental aspects while trying to avoid unnecessary barriers to trade. 

Like trade, industrial development contributes to prosperity. QI supports industrial development and innovation through standards development that is in line with SGDs 8 and 9. [1]

Standards can improve the environmental performance of materials and products, enhance energy efficiency, advance the development of sustainable infrastructure and promote decent work. Additionally, ISO standard 45001, “Occupational health and safety management systems”, is designed to help companies and organisations worldwide to protect the health and safety of their employees. [2]

Industry 4.0 is creating new challenges for measurement, testing and certification. QI therefore needs to further develop in parallel with Industry 4.0.[3] In this context, the “Metrology 4.0” concept defines new metrology trends in terms of meeting production requirements that enhance efficiency by using advanced and smart manufacturing and measuring processes. Here it is essential to apply smart sensors that monitor production units, optimise manufacturing processes, shorten production cycles, reduce other costs and continue to ensure product quality.

Concerning the dimension people, QI enables a variety of SDGs which address food security, good health and wellbeing (SDG3), gender equality (SDG5), clean energy (SDG7), clean water and sanitation (SDG6). QI ensures that food is safe and fit for consumption, thus supporting people’s health and wellbeing. QI also supports agricultural cross-border trade, and plays a crucial role in the health sector through measurement, testing and standards. QI makes sure that standards are written in a gender-sensitive way. Besides enhancing energy efficiency in two areas, energy consumption and energy transmission,  QI also supports the transition to clean energy by adapting standards and technical regulations for renewable energy solutions in line with good international practices and upgrading testing, certification and metrology capacities to ensure high-quality components and systems. Finally, QI can ensure that water reaches people and is safe for human consumption. It helps to control water pollution and efficiency of delivery, for example through the calibration of water meters or the international metrics of water scarcity and stress, and thus leads to optimum water reserves.

QI helps to conserve and protect the planet. Measurement and verification of compliance contribute to sustainable use of marine resources (life below water / SDG14) and the protection of eco-systems (Life on land/SDG15). QI provides accurate information on materials, energy, water and land used for production and consumption, which is needed for reducing energy, material intensity and related emissions and waste, and thus supports the transition to eco-friendly policies and behaviour. To this end, it enables us to consume and produce in a more responsible way (SDG12) and responds to the challenges of a circular economy.

Working towards SDG12, the Sustainable Procurement Standard (ISO 20400) helps organisations to build the sustainability principle into their procurement processes. Besides, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has developed standards for environmental labelling within the ISO 14020 series that provide guiding principles for environmental labels and self-declarations. These standards also prepare for third-party certification, and by helping to validate ecological claims, consumers are encouraged to make better choices.

Moreover, work is under way on a new standard for sustainable development and social responsibility in the agri-food sector. Sustainability is also highly relevant when it comes to construction. ISO 15392 standard “Sustainability in building construction” identifies and establishes general principles for sustainability in buildings and other construction works throughout their whole life cycle. Also supporting sustainable lifestyle choices, ISO 20245 standard “Cross-border trade of second-hand goods” defines minimum screening criteria for goods traded between countries, facilitating this alternative supply chain with the ultimate objective of reducing waste and curbing environmental impact.” [4]

With regard to the current global Corona pandemic, quality and standards can play a vital role in putting various SDGs back on track and mitigating the adverse effects of the COVID-19 crisis.[5] This includes SDG3 “Good health and wellbeing”. Here QI ensures that testing results are reliable and that medical equipment is fit for purpose. Concerning “Decent work and economic growth” (SDG8), QI enables cross-border trade of medical products and personal protective equipment (PPE) through mutual recognition of accredited quality test results. QI can also ensure the continuity of trade along global food value chains with respect to hygiene and food safety standards in production, thus strengthening SDG2 “Zero Hunger”. With regard to “sustainable consumption and production” (SDG12), QI can ensure the uninterrupted production and delivery of essential goods through standards in the fields of business continuity, risk and emergency management and occupational safety and health. Other relevant standards ensure that PPE is produced to a reliable quality standard. During times of crisis, certain technologies are used more, and new technologies are introduced. QI can ensure that these technologies are safe (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure/SDG9). The crisis generates a large amount of additional medical and hazardous waste. Standards help to address this problem, while reliable environmental test results reveal levels of pollution (Life on Land/SDG 15). Finally, a global partnership is required to fight the pandemic, which is in line with SDG 17, “Partnerships for the Goals”.

International development cooperation, which is committed to Quality Infrastructure, is increasingly focusing its support on SDGs.[6] In a new publication, UNIDO even calls to reboot QI for a sustainable future. [7] To this end, a fundamental transformation of the QI itself is necessary so that it can make a significant contribution to the required transformation of the economy and society. Similar to the redefinition of the concept of quality, a fundamental reorientation of the quality infrastructure is needed.


[1] ISO (2018). Contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals with ISO standards, Geneva

[2] ISO. GOAL 8: Decent work and economic growth, Geneva 

[3] Metrology News (2018). Metrology Is Making Industry 4.0 A Reality, March 18 

[4] ISO. Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, Geneva  

[5] UNIDO (2020). Quality & Standards in the Fight against Covid-19. April 2020 

[6] PTB (2016). Quality Infrastructure in Support of Sustainable Economic Development, Braunschweig

[7] UNIDO (2019). Rebooting Quality Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future. Vienna

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